Monday, February 22, 2010

The Scourge of the Baby Walker

As new parents, we get a lot of questions about baby walkers. They usually come from people from around my parent's generation who raised their kids with them. The question is usually: Do they still have those things?

Well, not really.

Then they always lament at how we coddle our kids too much these days and that all of their kids survived just fine and then they mumble something about nut allergies and walking to school barefoot uphill both ways. Well, there was a nice little blog posting on the New York Times website today regarding the danger baby walkers pose, and it was eye-opening for a few reasons.

The posting reads: Back in 1994, when baby walkers were still extremely popular in the United States, the Consumer Products Safety Commission declared that baby walkers were responsible for more injuries than any other children’s product. (Italics added)

Now if that doesn't make you wonder how we all survived a world rife with baby walkers, I don't know what will. I think I'd rather make Olive walk to school barefoot than put her in a baby walker now. Apparently the walkers were seen as the cause of broken bones, burns, broken teeth, and even death. I do understand that a possible knee jerk reaction could be to say that the baby walkers weren't necessarily to blame, but parenting was to blame. This is the old, guns don't kill people, people kill people argument. But the walkers do allow the child to move pretty quick, and often faster than the parent expects or can react. Plus, I don't let Olive play with guns either. So, we have settled it. Baby walkers = death trap.

This was all well and good, but I kind of knew this before. I mean, if Babies R' Us isn't selling 27 of them then there must be something REALLY bad about that product. What was really interesting, especially for me, was that baby walkers actually delay gross motor development AND mental development. Baby's learn to walk and move by exploring the world around them and figuring stuff out. Throwing them in a walker skips a few steps and so, apparently, they don't learn to crawl, walk, or roll as quickly as kids who aren't put in walkers. Also, their mental development is slowed fairly significantly (my guess is because they don't have to do the work of figuring out how to get from point A to point B).

Now, Olive has never been in a walker. But for the past couple weeks, she has been walking around the house by holding on to our hands. We constantly are doing laps of the house bent over while she leads us from one interesting point to another. We have realized recently, however, that she isn't exactly keen on trying to do any of this on her own. Olive needs mommy and daddy to be there all the time. She is nearly helpless when put on her back and her tummy. She cruises well, but gets frustrated quickly and spends most of the time trying to figure out loud she needs to yell before someone comes and helps her. Are WE doing the same thing as the baby walker? Are we, by giving in and letting her hold on to our hands and motor around, keeping her from figuring all this out on her own? Maybe. Maybe not. But it definitely makes me think.

Now we are trying to be better at not immediately jumping to her rescue if she gets frustrated trying to reach a toy or move around a room. She isn't crawling, but she is doing a sort of half crawl/half walk maneuver where she puts both hands in front of her, gets on one knee and then pushes herself along the floor with the other foot. It makes her look a little bit like Quasimodo, and it isn't the most efficient of transportation options, but it is effective -- and she is doing it without anyone's help.

So we'll see how the next few weeks go. I'm sure we will still give in and shuffle along behind our little girl (I mean, it IS fun) but we will also be doing our best to let her be an independent baby and happily (hopefully) limp around on her own.


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